Back in March, people 50 and over—and younger people with weakened immune systems—became eligible to receive a second booster shot. If you got your second booster recently, can you still get the new Omicron-specific booster that health officials are expecting in September or October?
The answer is yes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considered this very scenario in the spring before authorizing a second booster for this group, since they knew Omicron-specific boosters were likely forthcoming. They decided that taking a second booster would not preclude people from also getting the Omicron booster if and when it was authorized.
The reason for that is because boosters are an important way to enhance waning immunity, and more studies show that the initial surge in virus-fighting antibodies that vaccines produce can decline over time. Topping off these levels with a booster shot is crucial in order to protect vulnerable people from getting seriously ill with COVID-19, and that’s what the vaccines have been doing—keeping people out of the hospital and dying of the disease. Getting a second booster shores up this protection, and when those antibody levels inevitably wane again, people would be eligible for the new Omicron-specific booster. It’s not a matter of getting one or the other, but getting both when the time comes.
If you qualify for one, getting a second booster as soon as possible is a good idea. “The threat to you [from BA.5] is now,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the White House, in a July press briefing. If you are not vaccinated to the fullest—namely, not gotten boosters according to the recommendations—you are putting yourself at increased risk.” Cases and deaths are still relatively high across the country; BA.5 is more transmissible than past variants and while vaccines won’t protect you from getting infected in the first place, they will provide some defense from getting hospitalized and getting severe COVID-19.
The booster doses that the FDA is reviewing now—made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna—are different from those that people have received so far. They are bivalent vaccines, meaning they’re directed against two strains of the virus: the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 that previous vaccines targeted, as well as the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, which now account for nearly all new infections in the U.S. Recent data show that even people who are vaccinated and boosted with the original strain are still susceptible to developing mild-to-moderate COVID-19 from the Omicron variants, so experts hope that the new booster shot will better protect people from getting sick from these circulating Omicron viruses.
FDA and CDC officials have not yet decided who would qualify for Omicron boosters (though Pfizer-BioNTech recently asked for authorization of their shots for all Americans 12 and up, and Moderna submitted its application for adults 18 and older), when they would be available, and how long after a previous dose people should wait before getting it. The CDC’s vaccine advisory committee is scheduled to meet on September 1 and 2 and may issue more guidance then.